April 09, 2007

Southwest Utah, Summary

I took a week long photo vacation in southwest Utah, focusing primarily on Zion National Park. The scenery in Zion was much more varied than I expected, and when the weather cooperated, I had plenty of subjects to shoot.

There were mountains...

Court of the Patriarchs, SunriseCourt of the PatriarchsIsaac and Abraham Peaks, Sunrise
The Great White ThroneStreaked WallThe Sentinel
Angels Rest

And canyons...

Shallow CanyonCanyon Wall and PoolCanyon Wall and Pool

And rock patterns and formations...

Pine Tree and Cliff FaceStriated Rock and ShrubRock Patterns and ShrubArch and Dead Tree
Ridge and CottonwoodArch and Cottonwood

And silhouettes...

Silhouette on Cathedral MountainThe Pulpit SilhouetteObservation Point Silhouette

And even water...

The Watchman and Virgin RiverVirgin RiverCascade on Virgin RiverArch, Rocks and Pool
Rocks and PoolUpper Emerald Pool

But I didn't spend all my time in Zion. I ventured into Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as well...

Weathered Cliff Face and PlantWeathered Cliff Face and PlantUnnamed CanyonStriated Rock and Boulders

And I particuarly enjoyed the Paria Homesite area...

Mesa and Hills at PariaMesa and Hills at PariaRock Formation and Hills at PariaMesa and Hills at Paria

But my favorite part of the entire trip was the storm breaking at Kolob Canyons...

Nagunt MesaNagunt Mesa ValleyShuntavi Point
Shuntavi Point and Stapley PointTimber Top MountainTimber Top Mountain and Shuntavi Point
Shuntavi PointCanyon on South Fork Taylor Creek

A detailed account of my trip is available here:
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

April 01, 2007

Southwest Utah, Part 1

I originally planned a trip to Death Valley/Mojave in California. I needed to get away for a while, and week's worth of photography was just the medicine I needed, but I just couldn't get excited about it. It seemed a good time to visit the desert, before the temperature got too hot, and maybe with some early season blooms. After a little research, I switched to southwest Utah, specifically Zion and Bryce National Parks. I'd only spent cursory time in Utah, mostly before I was into photography, so the whole area is pretty unexplored. On seeing the week was the last before shuttle service is enforced in Zion, I knew it was the right destination.

Day 1 (Friday): Travel

This was a bonus day, as I wasn't expecting to leave until the Saturday. I managed to squeeze out of work early enough to hit the road and make some significant distance. I tried to make it to Boise, I decided not to risk any farther than Ontario on the Oregon/Idaho border because of the time change and late hour.

I am always amazed at the beauty of south-central Washington. The rolling hills look as if they're covered in cloth, and this time of year the golden grass is absolutely beautiful. I did manage to make it across Oregon without stopping for gas. Silly laws like forbidding me from pumping my own gas means I take my dollars elsewhere.

Day 2 (Saturday): Arrival

I spent most of the day driving across Idaho and Utah, and while 75 mph speeds are nice, it was still a long day. Other than the Salt lake City and Provo area, which seems to gop on forever, there's not much out there. Stopping for gas at some of the small towns gave me flashbacks to my rural Texas days.

I changed plans along the way, deciding to head for Hurricane instead of Cedar City. It's about 40 miles farther south, but also near the entrance to Zion. After studying the maps and realizing the scale of Utah, I thought I would be better off focusing on Zion and hitting other places as time ad weather allowed, rather than dividing my time between two different destinations and spreading myself too thin. I could aim for Bryce next time if I didn't make it.

I arrived in Hurricane that afternoon and got my room for the week with time to spare for an evening scouting trip into Zion. I was amazed at the scenery, but was just as amazed at the crowds. It was Saturday evening, of course, and I'd managed to time my trip during the peak of the regional high school and college spring breaks, so crowds were something I would probably have to deal with the whole week.

I had just enough time to drive along the main canyon road and mentally mark a spot for the next morning's photos, so the scouting run was a success. My shooting would officially start then.

Day 3 (Sunday): Falling In Love With Grand Staircase

Court of the Patriarchs, Sunrise Up at 5:30 for a dawn trek into the park for sunrise. I changed destination at the last minute and headed for Court of the Patriarchs instead of the Streaked Wall. I started shooting as the sun crested the canyon wall behind me, illumiating the peaks of the Court, and spent the next hour at various points there as the line of sun slowly moved down the mountain faces.

Court of the PatriarchsIsaac and Abraham Peaks, Sunrise

After I felt I'd captured the scene, I moved farther along the canyon road, scouting and learning the area. The light was still good for the most part, so I tried a few more photos, but I quickly realized that shooting in the canyon can be difficult. I didn't have a wide enough lens to capture some of the shots I wanted. Shooting up and down the canyon is possible when the light is right and the sun is high enough, but for the most part I had to think more abstractly in the canyon. Even then, I found that I didn't always have enough zoom to get exactly the composition I wanted.

As the good light faded, the weekend crowds arrived, and I headed out of the park for midday to seek solitude in exploration. I drove east through the tunnel into upper Zion and got my first look at the interesting formations and strata patterns. But here too the crowds were forming, so I continued out of the park toward Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

At the very least I wanted to see the Vermillion Cliffs laballed on my road map. They were interesting, but pretty far from the road. I didn't have much of a map for Grand Staircase -- just a Utah gazeteer -- so wasn't sure if the roads to them were public or private. To be safe, I stayed on the main road. I knew very little about Grand Staircase, so I was going on whim. The nearest destination was Paria Homesite. That sounded pretty intersting since I like ghost towns, so I decided to check it out. It turned out to be a pretty good idea.

Paria (also spelled Pahreah) was an old settlement from the 1800s that was long abandoned. It also served as a movie location in starting the 1930s, and was even used for filming part of The Outlaw Josey Wales. Floods had taken care of the old buildsings, and vandals had lovingly burned the movie set to the ground last year, so all that was left were charred foundations.

But that's not what was so interesting about the area. The valley itself was absoltely beautiful. Capped buttes watched over clay hills that reminded me of the Painted Hills in central Oregon, except most of the rock and clay here was bright red. The undulating terrain and color had excellent photographic potential and all seemed to face the west, so I marked this as a definite evening location. And just as perfect, I had the entire place to myself -- it was absolutely silent except for the faint sounds of nature. Here was the solitude I sought.

But there were even more amazing landscapes ahead in Grand Staircase. After exploring the area around the Paria River on foot, I went back to the highway and continued east to Cottonwood Canyon Road. It runs north through the heart of western Grand Staircase to near the southern tip of Bryce Canyon. This would be a chance for me to see what this part of the Monument really had to offer, and I still had plenty of midday light to kill.

Mesa at Cottonwood Canyon (Snapshot) Cottonwood Canyon didn't let me down. The road itself was is decent shape for the most part, but it was little more than a plowed and somewhat graded strip of clay through the landscape. And while a long string of high voltage lines paralleled the road and occasionally interfered with the scenery, the drive itself was fantastic. Every few miles the terrain changed completely, exotic landforms protruding from the earth in all shapes and colors. I snapped numerous photos to at least record the area, but for every interesting landform I captured there were two or three I did not.

Formation at Cottonwood Canyon (Snapshot)Formation at Cottonwood Canyon (Snapshot)Formation at Cottonwood Canyon (Snapshot)

The entire drive would be an excellent place to photograph for sunset, but I knew had time to spend either here or in Paria, and after some deliberation I chose Paria. I mentally marked this as a place to return should time and weather allow, but unfortuantely neither did. By the time I drove to the Grovesnor Arch trailhead on the northern reaches of the road, I had just enough time to drive back to Paria before for good evening.

I arrived back at Paria to find I was right about the light, but wrong about the angle. The evening sun shone dead straight on the rippling landscape, and without shadows to give them depth, the photos were flat and two-dimensional. And to top it all off, there were clouds moving in low on the western horizon -- the storm they'd predicted was on its way. I moved father north to put some angle between me and the sun, and just as I'd found a few suitable shots, the sun sank behind the cloud bank. Frustrated and disappointed, I left my camera set up and explored the area on foot.

Mesa and Hills at Paria Then, just as quickly as it had disappeared, the sun beamed through a break in the clouds, and I ran back to my camera to grab what shots I could. For the next half hour I composed a shot then waited for the brief moments the sun would peak through the clouds. I managed to grab a handful of images, then the sun was gone for good.

Mesa and Hills at PariaRock Formation and Hills at PariaMesa and Hills at Paria